Altru officials say new hospital will be on the cutting edge of technology, patient comfort

$475 million hospital will feature upgraded patient rooms, new central cafeteria and larger operating rooms, among other features

GRAND FORKS — As its new $475 million hospital takes shape, officials with Grand Forks-based Altru Health System say the facility will be on the cutting edge of technology and will improve patient and visitor comfort.

Todd Forkel, CEO of Altru, said the project puts Altru in a unique position over other health care systems across the nation.

“Not many health care organizations are building right now due to macroeconomic conditions,” he said. “We’re anticipating that this facility will be one of the most technologically advanced in the Midwest.”

The new hospital — slated for completion in fall 2024, with the goal of hosting its first patient in early 2025 — will feature seven stories, 226 patient beds and new operating rooms, among other new amenities.

One major feature of the new hospital will be increased natural lighting, which Forkel says is lacking in the existing hospital, built in 1971.

“There’s exponentially more natural lighting in this building than the current building,” he said. “That’s one thing we’ve learned about from the ’70s to today — the healing power of natural light.”

Josh Kehrwald, principal architect at JLG Architects — the firm contracted to design the new hospital — said it will be designed to improve patient comfort by segregating them from the bustle of employee activity.

“We want to create as much of a hospitality-like environment as we can,” he said. “One of the ways we do that is we take all of the back house traffic and put it down one corridor, and the front house traffic down a separate corridor. That way, the public and workers are never really interacting with each other, except for where care is (happening).”

Kehrwald also said the new hospital’s emergency department will incorporate an “on-stage, off-stage model designed to function the way emergency medicine is provided today.” Patients and providers will enter rooms from separate doors, with patient-facing staff located at the ready.

“What that does, is it separates the chaos of a working emergency department from what the patient is experiencing,” he said. “It also puts all of our care providers immediately adjacent to our patients. Every one of our treatment spaces touches this work floor. If we have a patient that’s not performing well medically, misbehaving or we have a staff member in trouble, all they have to do is open a door, take two steps and holler for help.”

Kehrwald also said the emergency department will have separate entrances for ambulances and visitors.

“So now when you’re arriving in the emergency department and you’re following an ambulance in, you don’t have this weird situation of ‘where do I park, what do I do?’ That whole sequence is a lot more clarified.”

Patients preparing for and recovering from surgery will have their own private rooms, as opposed to the present arrangement of patient bays separated by curtains. He said having private preparation and recovery rooms is essential to ensuring patient comfort and privacy.

“What happens in pre-post, is you have some very intensely personal conversations with your provider or your family,” Kehrwald said. “There’s a lot of stress, and a lot of things you want to keep private that have to be said. In postoperative care some people don’t react well to anesthesia, and you don’t want to hear that as you’re preparing to go into a procedure. Grand Forks is still a small enough town that when you’re in a bay environment, you have to wonder who can hear.”

Another feature of the new hospital will involve housing all of its 12 operating rooms and interventional services — such as cardiology — on one floor. Forkel said the new operating rooms will be substantially larger than those presently in service.

“The smallest operating room here is as big as the largest operating room at the existing hospital,” he said.

The operating floor will also contain a corridor called “clean core,” which allows surgical equipment to be staged for use in operating rooms after being cleaned in the hospital’s “central sterile” facility. Kehrwald said clean core will allow surgeons to be better prepared for their procedures by providing a steady supply of sterilized equipment, and reducing clutter in operating rooms.

“The idea behind clean core is that this is the most sterile environment in the entire hospital,” he said. “Right now we kind of have to operate on demand, because there’s no space on the operating floor or in central sterile to stage equipment. With the presence of this clean core, it gives us two benefits. The biggest benefit is that we can work ahead a bit with central sterile and have some flexibility to accommodate a lag if a piece of equipment isn’t ready. The other thing it does is allows us to be prepared for the what-ifs. For example, I might need a particular widget in an OR, because it needs to be ready in case something goes wrong during a procedure.”

Kehrwald added that clean core will ensure clean and dirty equipment enters and leaves the operating room through separate doors.

“In the current hospital, everything comes in and out of the OR through one door,” he said. “Now with this clean core concept, all of our sterile equipment goes into a door, and when they become dirty they’re going to follow the patient out of the room and go to the dirty elevator that takes things back to central sterile.”

Another new feature touted by Altru and JLG is improved comfort and provider monitoring of patient rooms.

Kehrwald said the hospital’s rooms will be split into 12-bed neighborhoods, with each neighborhood having its own nurse’s station. According to Kehrwald, this design allows a nurse to observe two patient rooms simultaneously, reducing the amount of time required to enter a room to measure vital signs.

“One thing we always tell patients when they come into the hospital is that they need to rest, and then we come in and poke, prod, take their blood pressure and temperature every two hours,” he said. “Now with these visual checks, we don’t need to disturb the patient to do that.”

Kehrwald also said Altru solicited the services of Price Industries Limited — a Winnipeg-based manufacturer specializing in air distribution services — to design temperature-control services for its patient rooms. He said the rooms will be partially heated by radiant hot water panels, in order to maximize patient comfort.

“The beautiful thing about radiant heat is that it doesn’t heat air, it heats objects,” Kehrwald said. “We’re using that radiant heat to provide comfort heat for the entire space, and the benefit of that is we can also use it to create a more comfortable environment to what you’re touching and feeling.”

Additionally, the new hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit will have private spaces for all patients, which Kehrwald said allows families to have immediate bonding time with their newborn children.

Kehrwald said the new hospital’s cafeteria will function as a centralized meeting point — a stark contrast to its present location.

“It’s a space that you’re going to be forced to interact with as you enter the hospital,” he said. “If you contrast that to the current hospital where the dining room is buried in the middle of the building and you have to follow signs to get there, we said ‘we’re going to take that and turn it into something we’re going to celebrate.’ The best way to find is to retrace your steps — so having bypassed this cafeteria on your way into this building, all you have to do is retrace your steps.”

In keeping with Altru’s desire to boost patient, visitor and employee wellness through exposure to natural light, an outdoor patio will be located adjacent to the cafeteria. Kehrwald said its location on the west side of the building will allow users to take advantage of “afternoon heat in the spring and fall.”

“I think that space is going to be highly utilized, especially for staff members,” Kehrwald said. “If you get a 20-minute break and want to grab a cup of coffee and some fresh air, you can be outside but feel like you haven’t left the hospital.”

Forkel said he hopes the new hospital will be an example of Altru’s commitment to serving the community.

“I think it’s important that the community both sees and feels that we care for the holistic needs of patients, and their families at large,” Forkel said.

Cory Geffre, executive vice president of nursing operations, said the new facility will provide employees with the ability to fulfill Altru’s commitment to high-quality care.

“We’ll now be able to offer a high-quality environment that matches the already elevated level of care we provide,” Geffre said.